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ON A GOOD PROFESSION.
1 TIMOTHY vi. 12.
Lay hold on eternal life; whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
In this passage St. Paul exhorts Timothy to lay hold on eternal life; and, presents two powerful motives to engage him in the pursuit. Of these the first is, that he has been called by God to take possession of this glorious inheritance. The call, here spoken of, not only intends the general invitation of the Gospel, but also that, which by the Westminster Assembly is styled Efectual calling : the internal call of the divine Spirit. The second is the good. profession, which he had professed before many witnesses. Timothy had publicly professed the religion of Christ before many witnesses; thus declaring, that this was the religion of his choice; and solemnly given himself up to the Redeemer as one of his disciples. In the former of these transactions God had bound him to seek eternal life: in the latter, he had bound himself. More powerful reasons could not be alleged, why he should continue to seek with unremitted diligence and fervour this all important object.
The profession, which Timothy had made of the religion of the Gospel, in this case, was a public profession: for it was made before many
witnesses. St. Paul declares it also to have been a good profession; and in this, as he spoke by inspiration, could not be deceived.
The same religion is publicly professed in our churches : as it plainly ought to be. That the profession, when made, ought also ,
to be good, Cannot rationally be denied; for it can hardly be sup. posed that any other will be acceptable to God.
In the following discourse it is my design to consider the subject with some attention. In pursuing this design I shall consider,
1. What a good profession of the Christian religion is.
11. What is that state of mind, in which a profession may be made.
1. What is a good profession of the Christian religion ? A good profession of the Christian religion is, in the
1st place, A declaration that we believe the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel.
That some doctrines of the Gospel are fundamental will hardly be questioned by any man, who believes the Gospel to be a Revelation. Doctrines of the Gospel are truths ; conformity to which in our hearts and lives will entitle us to the favour of God. Such as will be condemned at the final day, among those who know the Gospel, we are assured, will be condemned because they obey not the Gospel. But it is clearly certain, that what we do not believe we cannot obey. No man's heart or life, was, it is presumed, ever better than it would appear to be from the whole of the doctrines, which he believed.
Among these doctrines, however, some are obviously of more importance than others; and of such, as possess this importance, some are obviously essential to the very nature of the scheme, of which they are parts. This is true of all systems of thought; whatever may be their nature, or subject. Most evidently is it true of the Evangelical system. There are certain truths of the Gospel, on which all the rest depend for their whole importance, and even for their meaning. If we believe not these, we believe not the Gospel : for without these the Gospel is nothing : if we love not these, we love not the Gospel : if we obey not these, we obey not the Gospel. If we believe not these, it is impossible, that we should love, or obey, them. No truth was ever loved, or obeyed, until after it was believed. And, as these truths constitute the substance and marrow of the Gospel, so, unless we believe them, it is impossible that the evangelical system should have its proper influence either on our hearts or our lives: in
other words, it is impossible, that we should be true disciples of our Redeemer.
It will not be doubted, that a man cannot be a Christian, unless he believes the Gospel. It is so often, and so expressly, declared in the Gospel itself, that faith is absolutely necessary to salvation, as to put to fight every hope of obtaining it without the possession of this attribute. Who, after hearing these declarations, - He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him," can rationally expect to escape that wrath, or to obtain that life, without believing? To believe on the Son of God, then, is essential to the attainment of everlasting life. But, whatever else is included in this faith, it certainly involves a speculative belief of the truths, which are the immediate objects of faith. Without such belief there can be no faith. Accordingly those are declared to be condemned, universally, who believe not the truth. Those also, who will be finally saved, are declared to he chosen to salvation, not only through the sanctification of the spirit, but also through belief of the truth. Nay, the truth is declared to be the essential means of sanctification. “ Sanctify them," says our Saviour in his intercessory prayer,“ by thy truth. Thy word is truth."
Among the truths, which are essential to the system of the Gospel, those, which together constitute the character of Christ, are undoubtedly of primary importance. “If ye believe not that I am he," says our Saviour to the Jews, " ye shall die in your sins." "He that believeth on him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already." “ Whoso believeth that Jesus is the Son of God, whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God."
To believe in Christ is undoubtedly to believe in his true character; his nature, his offices, and his actions. In other words, it is to believe that he is what he really is, that he has done what he has really done, and that he has said what he has really said. All this, so far as it can be known by us, or be an object of our faith, is declared in the Scriptures. To believe, then, in the declarations of Scripture concerning Christ is to be. lieve in his character, offices, and actions. But to believe the
declarations of the Scripture is to believe their true meaning; for the words, independently of their meaning, are nothing : and, if we substitute a meaning for the true one; we believe not the Scriptures, but ourselves; not their meaning, but our own; not a declaration of God, but a declaration of man, put in its place. To believe in the true meaning of the Scriptural declarations concerning Christ is, then, to believe the true character, offices, and actions, of Christ.
What this meaning is in most cases cannot be lawfully, nor innocently, mistaken. In almost all instances these declarations were addressed to the great body of mankind, and were intended to be understood by them. They are written, not in words, which man's wisdom teacheth, but in words, which the Holy Ghost teacheth; and, therefore, the best of all words. Hence it is certain, that their obvious meaning is the true one, for these plain and unanswerable reasons: that those, to whom they are addressed, cannot possibly find out any other; and it is equally impossible that God should have so written his word, as that those, to whom it is especially addressed, should, when faithfully employed in examining it, be necessarily perplexed, and deceived.
When, therefore, we find these declarations in the Scriptures: " Christ is God over all things, and blessed forever;" . This is the true God, and eternal life;" “ He is the propitiation for our sins;" we cannot innocently refuse to believe, that he is the propitiation for our sins; the true God, and God over all things. These things are plainly a part, and an essential part, of the character, and offices, of Christ; and to believe them is essential to the faith, by which we must be saved.
It is not intended here, that the simple assent of the understand. ing to these or to any other propositions, is the saving faith of the Gospel. “With the heart," and with the heart only, I am well aware, that“ man believeth unto righteousness.” But the belief which I have specified is essential to that of the heart, and to the righteousness, of which it is the source. “ The words, which I speak unto you,” saith our Saviour, " they are spirit, and they are life.”
What is true of the declarations, which I have mentioned, is equally true of many others. It will be easily seen to be impossihle for me, on this occasion, to enlarge upon them. I will, how.
ever, barely recite a few. " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." That which is born of the flesh is flesh: that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “ Not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” “A man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” “ By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that, not of yourselves : it is the gift of God." “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” 6 Without holi. ness no man shall see the Lord.”
All these declarations carry their own importance with them. All of them have an obvious meaning. In that meaning we are bound to receive them. If we do not, we certainly do not receive the Gospel : for the declarations, which I have recited, are the substance of the Gospel.
To give a strong example of the contrary mode of managing with the Scriptures, Mr. Brlsham, one of the principal Unitarians in Great Britain, says, that “ Christ, after having given sufficient proofs of his resurrection, was in a miraculous manner withdrawn from their society: which is described as an ascension into heaven:” and again, - Jesus is indeed now alive; but we are totally ignorant of the place, where he resides, and of the occupations, in which he is engaged.” St. Mark, however, says, “ After the Lord had spoken" unto the apostles," he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." St. Peter says of him, “Whom the heaven must receive, until the times of the restitution of all things :" St. Paul, that, " when Christ had by himself purged our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." Christ says of himself, “ I overcame, and am set down with my father in his throne." St. Paul says, that one of his employments is to uphold all things by the word of his power; another, to be over all things, or universally to rule. St. John says, that one of his occupations is to smite the nations for their sins; another, to rule them with a rod of iron; another, to be the light of heaven, or the great source of knowledge to its inhabitants; another, to feed his children with the bread of life, and to lead them unto fountains of living waters.